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What this framework is for

When assessing universities’ civic impacts and examining how to improve them, it is important to understand that institutions will have different priorities and timescales and different ways of understanding their communities’ needs. But they are engaged in comparable tasks and need a common language and set of criteria to compare and assess what they are doing in order to learn and improve. This is an initial attempt to provide such a framework. It is being prototyped within the Civic University Network and has been workshopped with four universities during January and February 2021. The framework has been informed by an evidence review of universities’ civic activity and previous research on universities’ ‘anchor’ role.

It is designed to inform universities’ internal processes and strategies in the first instance – but we recognise that this can and should be developed further by understanding what ‘place’ means to local partners and communities. The framework gives universities a tool to enable them to engage in conversations with colleagues and partners about what a truly civic university might look like, and what the journey might involve. It does not seek to impose a new set of obligations, but instead asks how universities can build the wellbeing of their communities through their everyday activities and core business of learning, teaching and research.

The framework aims to help universities ask the right questions about their civic activity. The better the data they can draw on, the more informed responses to these questions will be. Some key data sources are indicated in the tables below. By asking the questions below and gathering appropriate data, universities can start to develop locally appropriate metrics and indicators.


This prototype framework has three main purposes:
  • to help universities to celebrate and tell the story of the action they are taking to benefit their localities
  • to encourage universities to map their civic activities comprehensively
  • to encourage them to do better still, by creatively asking ‘what if?’ questions, generate imaginative and ambitious responses, and reflect with their peers on achievements and opportunities

About the framework

The framework is being developed iteratively in a series of conversations with university leaders and has been changed and improved in response to those conversations. We would expect that process to continue as institutions seek to use it in real-world situations and as it is road-tested in collaboration with partners such as the NHS and local authorities. The framework does not impose a particular model of ‘civicness’. It recognises that every institution will need to make choices in the light of its own circumstances and resources. It is hoped that the framework will inform such choices by highlighting the key domains of what it means to be civic and stimulating conversations about the difference universities can make. Each institution will need to use it in ways that are locally appropriate, although we would encourage them to set stretching and ambitious goals that encourage genuine reflection and improvement.

In practical terms, this framework is envisaged as a discussion-starter and checklist that can be applied across a range of institutional activities, either within one domain or all together.

It will be especially pertinent when drawing up Civic University Agreements, enabling institutions to consider how they will address each of the seven domains and identify priorities for action. It can also be used to inform the narrative and place-based elements of submissions under the Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF).

Additionally, the framework is a tool that can be used to inform:

  • partnerships with local authorities, the NHS and community organisations
  • investment in festivals and cultural activities
  • campus development and planning
  • carbon reduction activities

Universities that aspire to be ‘civic’ could use the framework to inform and develop their strategic thinking across each of the seven domains.

We have been challenged in devising this framework to suggest clear quantitative indicators of progress or success, and on the normative nature of some of the questions we pose. Our view is that civic activity cannot be reduced to a single set of measurable indicators, because ‘civic’ will look and feel different in different institutions depending on their particular histories, geographies and economies. We recognise that choices of indicators and metrics embed norms and values, and we believe that discussion of norms and values is central to identifying what ‘civicness’ is – while recognising that these norms may vary between institutions. One purpose of the framework is to ensure that these conversations about values and priorities take place and inform civic activities.

We also recognise that excellent practice will take many forms. We would like to complement this matrix with examples of good and promising practice across all the proposed domains and progress levels, so we would particularly welcome real-life examples from across the higher education sector showing how civic impact can be achieved.

We see this framework as a prototype, to be developed as institutions apply it in real-world situations. We would be interested in hearing from institutions about their experiences in using this tool, and working with them to improve and fine-tune the framework.

Explore the domains


How it works

The framework identifies seven domains of universities’ civic commitment – the core areas in which universities impact their places and communities. It also identifies six phases of progress. Progress is envisaged as a cyclical and iterative process, in which the learning then informs further reviews and development, as shown in the diagram below.


In the detailed tables you will find by selecting a domain on the right or navigating forward at the end of this page, the domains and phases are mapped against existing guidance on Civic University Agreements, and the principles of the Knowledge Exchange Concordat. This contextualises civic commitment within UK higher education policy. Mapping these activities against the Sustainable Development Goals (noted at the bottom of each section) places civic activity within a recognisable international framework.

The table below summarises the domains of activity and progress, with overarching questions to be addressed in each phase. It aims to encourage a comprehensive approach to HEIs’ civic activities, ensuring they are not narrowly focused on economic development. We would expect universities to be working across these domains simultaneously as well as sequentially, informed by their relationships with local partners.

Explore the domains

Download the Framework

You can explore all elements of the framework in full on this webpage, or download a copy here, including the background document ‘Capturing and Enhancing the Impact of the Civic University’.

Download the framework
Download the background document

The Civic Framework in a nutshell

Supporting Resources

Civic Impact Framework: Webinar Recording

This webinar, held on 24 March 2021, shared the emerging work from the Civic University Network on creating a framework for civic activity. We discussed why the framework isn’t yet another league table; what it aims to achieve; and introduce the seven domains of activity we think should be at the heart of Civic University Agreements and place-based partnerships and strategies.

Civic Impact Framework: Webinar Slides

The webinar was chaired by the NCCPE Director of Policy, Paul Manners, and the civic activity framework was introduced by Ed Ferrari (Director) and Julian Dobson (Senior Research fellow) at the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University, which has been leading this work. There were also insights from institutions that have already taken initiatives to assess and improve their civic activities.

Click here to download the webinar slides.

Download Slides

Your Feedback

You have exclusive access to the prototype civic impact framework.

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